Prep Football

Iowa high school football playoffs: Area first-round preview

16 games feature area teams as the season shifts to postseason Friday

Williamsburg's Gage Hazen-Fabor (22) runs for yardage in the Raiders' Class 2A state-championship football game with Waukon last season. Hazen-Fabor has rushed for 1,689 yards this season, most in 2A. Williamsburg hosts West Marshall in a first-round game Friday. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Williamsburg's Gage Hazen-Fabor (22) runs for yardage in the Raiders' Class 2A state-championship football game with Waukon last season. Hazen-Fabor has rushed for 1,689 yards this season, most in 2A. Williamsburg hosts West Marshall in a first-round game Friday. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Area capsules for select Cedar Rapids Metro/Iowa City and Gazette area first-round football playoff games. All games start at 7 p.m.

Class 4A

Cedar Rapids Kennedy (6-3) at No. 5 Iowa City West (8-1)

Playoff history: Kennedy is making its 18th appearance, its first since a runner-up finish in 2015. West has qualified for the 17th time, the eighth year in a row. The Trojans were 4A runners-up in 2016 and 2017, and captured championships in 1995, 1998 and 1999.

Overview: West looks to turn explosive receiver Jalen Gaudet loose on the Cougars. Gaudet leads 4A in yards per catch, at 29.1. Nine of his 30 receptions this season have gone for touchdowns. Kennedy junior Cade Parker is the leading tackler in 4A, with 104, including 14 for loss. The Cougars’ three losses (to West Des Moines Valley, Cedar Rapids Prairie and Bettendorf) have come against teams with a combined 24-3 record, and now they seek to beat an above-.500 opponent for the first time since their magical 2015 season.

 

 

No. 9 Cedar Rapids Prairie (7-2) at No. 8 Johnston (7-2)

Playoff history: Prairie has qualified for the 21st time, the seventh year in a row. The Hawks won a 3A title in their first appearance, in 1981. Johnston is a 16-time qualifier, including 11 consecutive years.

Overview: Both teams enter the postseason after absorbing Week 9 defeats. Prairie was defeated by Cedar Falls, 28-14, while Waukee edged Johnston, 31-30. Waukee is the only common opponent for these squads; the Warriors downed Prairie, 33-6, in Week 3. Prairie’s Keegan Simmons was the regular-season rushing leader in 4A, netting 1,910 yards on 255 carries and scoring 25 touchdowns. That comes on the heels of an 1,822-yard season as a junior. Dragons quarterback Andrew Nord has passed for 726 yards and rushed for 616.

 

Class 3A

No. 7 Pella (8-1) at No. 1 Cedar Rapids Xavier (9-0)

Playoff history: This is playoff appearance No. 30 for Pella, including 12 in a row. The Dutch were 3A state champions three straight years (2014-16), then Xavier denied them a fourth consecutive title last year. For Xavier, this is the 15th playoff voyage, the 13th in a row. In addition to the Saints’ title last year, they won the 4A crown in 2006.

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Overview: These teams are meeting in the postseason for the fourth time in the last five years. Pella claimed semifinal victories in 2014 and 2016, then Xavier beat the Dutch for the championship last season, 31-13. The Saints have steamrolled everything in their path this season, outscoring their competition by a margin of 395-28, and haven’t been scored upon since Week 6. Their 3.1 points per game allowed is tops in the state — in any class. Pella’s lone loss of the season came in overtime to Oskaloosa in Week 7. The Dutch score at a 41-point clip and have a wideout threat in Logan Shetterly (42 receptions, 639 yards, 7 TDs).

 

 

No. 8 Western Dubuque (7-2) at No. 4 Solon (9-0)

Playoff history: Western Dubuque is in the playoff field for the 14th time, and back after a one-year absence. The Bobcats won a 3A state title in 2001. Solon is making its 29th appearance, its 14th in a row. The Spartans won four consecutive titles from 2007 through 2010 (three in 2A, one in 3A), plus a 2A title in 1988.

Overview: This has the potential to be one of the best 3A games in the state Friday. Western Dubuque has the two losses (to North Scott and Cedar Rapids Xavier), yes, but the Bobcats have played a much more challenging schedule. Solon rolled through district play, racking up 46.8 points per game in the process. The Spartans did have a couple of challenges this season, edging West Liberty in overtime and slipping past Mount Pleasant, 34-28. Two of the top receivers in 3A will be on display — Western Dubuque’s Drake George caught a 3A-best 54 passes for 795 yards and 10 touchdowns; Solon’s A.J. Coons nabbed 45 catches for 719 yards and 12 TDs.

 

 

Clear Creek Amana (8-1) at No. 10 Decorah (7-2)

Playoff history: CCA is making its sixth playoff appearance, its first since 2015. Decorah is in the field for the 25th time, the second year in a row. The Vikings have won five 3A state titles (1974, 1987-89, 2012).

Overview: Decorah followed a 1-2 start with six consecutive victories, including five straight (all by double digits) in a competitive District 3. All four of Decorah’s non-district opponents are in the playoffs (two in 2A, two in 3A), and that’s why the Vikings’ strength of schedule is dubbed as No. 1 in 3A by BC Moore. Drake Shelton has rushed for 1,089 yards and 11 touchdowns. Clear Creek Amana started 7-0 for the first time in school history, absorbed a 45-7 loss to North Scott, then closed the regular season with a win over DeWitt Central. Clippers QB Andrew Rohret has passed for 826 yards and rushed for 1,024, with 26 combined touchdowns.

 

Class 2A

Union Community (6-3) at No. 3 Waukon (8-1)

Playoff history: Union is making its 12th appearance, including 11 straight since 2008. The Knights were 3A state champions in 2011. Waukon is the defending 2A state champion and is making its seventh appearance.

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Overview: These teams are not unfamiliar with each other; they were district foes the last two years. Hit hard by graduation after last year’s title run, Waukon rebounded nicely after a Week 1 loss to Decorah, rattling off eight consecutive victories. Most of the skill performers are juniors and sophomores, including quarterback Creed Welch (1,740 passing yards and 23 touchdowns) and running back Dawson Baures (998 rushing yards, 15 TDs). Union could have won the District 7 title outright, but stumbled last week against West Marshall, 26-16. Brayden Grosse is Union’s second-leading rusher, and also has intercepted four passes.

No. 10 Greene County (8-1) at No. 4 Benton Community (8-1)

Playoff history: This is the fourth appearance for Greene County, but its predecessor — Jefferson JSPC — made it into the field 12 times. Benton is making its 10th appearance, its third in four years. The Bobcats are after their first postseason win since 1980.

Overview: Benton has exploded this season behind two-way star Matt Davis, who has rushed for 1,404 yards and 23 touchdowns, and also anchors the defense with a team-high 74 tackles. Nathan Michels catches passes, both offensively and defensively. He has 35 receptions for 644 yards and seven touchdowns, and also has snared four interceptions. He’ll have his eye on Greene County quarterback Brent Riley, who is sixth in 2A in passing yards (1,955), and has thrown for 21 touchdowns. Riley’s primary receiver is Carter Morton (30 catches, 703 yards, seven TDs).

No. 9 West Marshall (7-2) at Williamsburg (6-3)

Playoff history: Two proud programs here. West Marshall is making its 20th appearance, but its first since 2013. The Trojans were 1A champions in 1999. Williamsburg is in the field for the 19th time, which includes runner-up finishes in 2002 and 2017. Both teams are 20-18 all-time in the playoffs.

Overview: A rematch of a Week 1 contest, won by West Marshall, 27-14. That started Williamsburg on an 0-3 season-opening slide, but the Raiders turned it around with a win over Iowa City Regina, and they haven’t lost since. Gage Hazen-Fabor has carried a lot of the Raiders’ offensive workload again; he is the 2A rushing leader with 1,689 yards and 23 touchdowns. Williamsburg has a more balanced attack this year, with Jordan Martin triggering the passing game. He has thrown for 1,650 yards and 17 touchdowns. West Marshall earned a share of the District 7 title by upending Union Community, 26-16. Trojans QB Cameron Bannister has compiled nearly 2,700 yards of total offense.

 

 

Class 1A

No. 6 West Branch (8-1) at Osage (7-2)

Playoff history: A consistent qualifier for the past three decades, West Branch is in the playoffs for the 26th time, the 11th year in a row. The Bears won 1A titles in 1989, 1991 and 1992. Osage has qualified for the 11th time, the first since 2012.

Overview: West Branch makes the 160-mile voyage into far north-central Iowa for a battle with the District 4 champion Green Devils. Bears Coach Butch Pedersen went over the 300-win mark this season, and has a team talented enough to make a deep push. West Branch fell to Bellevue in Week 5, but its eight wins have all been comfortable. Beau Cornwell has thrown for 20 touchdowns against just three interceptions, and Tanner Lukavsky is a 1,000-yard rusher. Osage has won six consecutive games, and — like West Branch — scores about 38 points per game.

 

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Class A

BGM (8-1) at No. 5 Edgewood-Colesburg (8-1)

Playoff history: BGM has qualified for the 10th time, all in the last 11 years. That run includes a runner-up finish in 2013. Ed-Co will make its fifth appearance, its first since 2014.

Overview: After a season-opening loss to 1A unbeaten Bellevue, Edgewood-Colesburg has rattled off eight straight wins, all by two touchdowns or more, and is allowing 7 points per game in that span. Preston Rochford has netted 1,465 ground yards — 8.3 per carry — for 21 touchdowns. Noah Beck ignites BGM’s ground game; the junior has rushed for 1,120 yards and 17 touchdowns. BGM suffered a loss to Durant in Week 8, but responded with a 53-8 rout of Cardinal to clinch a playoff berth.

 

8-Player

Midland (9-1) at No. 2 Iowa Valley (9-0)

Playoff history: This is Midland’s eighth appearance, its fourth in a row. Iowa Valley is an 11-time qualifier.

Overview: Iowa Valley nailed down the No. 1 overall seed in the 8-Player playoffs by concluding a perfect regular season, 32-30, over a determined HLV squad last week. Expect a lot of points in this one; Midland is fourth in the class in scoring at 57.0 points per game; Iowa Valley is fifth at 54.7. Midland’s Britan Martens has accumulated more than 1,000 yards both by land and air, with 40 total touchdowns. The difference in the teams appears to be on defense. Iowa Valley allows a very respectable 18.4 points per game, Midland nearly twice that.

No. 10 Central City (8-1) at No. 3 Don Bosco (8-1)

Playoff history: Central City is making its second appearance, the other was in 2008. Don Bosco has become an 8-Player powerhouse, building a 24-4 record in its first seven appearances (all since 2011). The Dons won state titles in 2013, 2016 and 2017.

Overview: Central City’s “reward” for one of its best seasons in school history is a road trip to the pre-eminent 8-player program in the state. Both teams were part of three-way deadlocks for their district championships. Central City shared the District 3 title with Turkey Valley and Midland; Don Bosco was in a deadlock with Northwood-Kensett and Rockford in District 2. There is plenty of big-play potential on both sides, with the Wildcats averaging 57.7 points, the Dons 54.7. Central City’s Trey Holub averages 16 yards per carry, and has scored 17 touchdowns.

 

 

Other area games

Class 2A — No. 7 Chariton (8-1) at West Liberty (6-3)

Class A — Highland (7-2) at No. 10 Durant (7-2)

Class A — No. 4 North Tama (8-1) at Mason City Newman (7-2)

8-Player — Rockford (8-1) at Turkey Valley (8-1)

l Comments: (319) 368-8857; jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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